by Tim Cushing

Filed Under:
customer service, elemental, games, surprises, video games


Game Publisher Stardock Apologizes To Its Customers For Releasing A Subpar Game... By Giving Them Its Latest Game Free

from the well-played,-sir dept

One of the best things you can do for your business is have the guts to stand up and take full responsibility for your screwups. Too often, businesses tend to minimize their errors or sweep the screwup under the rug. This works right up until the public notices and when they do, there's all kinds of hell to pay. Word spreads fast on the internet, much faster than most companies seem to realize.

On the bright side, good news travels equally fast when companies do the right thing and take care of their customers. This is one of those all-too-rare occasions when a company goes above and beyond what anyone expects and turns customers into lifelong fans.

The Consumerist has an amazing story of customer service gone exactly right. The company is Stardock, the publisher behind "Elemental: War of Magic," a strategy game that was released as a buggy mess a couple of years back. This (unfortunately) isn't unusual. Games get rushed to market for several reasons and end users are left to either deal with something nearly unplayable or install patch after patch to get their brand new purchase up and running. So, while screwed up releases may not be unusual, what followed absolutely is. Customers who purchased "Elemental" received a letter from the CEO of Stardock that not only apologized for releasing a lousy game, but actually offered something way more valuable than lip service:
Dear Stardock customer,

My name is Brad Wardell. I’m the President & CEO of Stardock. Two years ago, you bought a game from us called Elemental: War of Magic. We had great hopes and ambitions for that game but, in the end, it just wasn’t a very good game.

Elemental was an expensive game. You probably paid $50 or more for it. And you trusted us to deliver to you a good game. $50 is a lot of money and companies have a moral obligation to deliver what they say they’re going to deliver and frankly, Stardock failed to deliver the game we said we were going to deliver…

Its design just wasn’t adequate to make it into the kind of game it should be. So we decided to start over. From scratch. We made a new game called Fallen Enchantress.

So even though it’s been two years, we haven’t forgotten about you. This week, we released Fallen Enchantress. It is a vastly better game and, we believe, lives up to the expectations set for the original Elemental. This game is yours. Free. It’s already been added to your account…

Thank you for being our customers and your patience.

Brad Wardell
President & CEO
Not only is it highly unusual for developers to apologize for crafting an underpar game, it's even more unusual for them to take the extra step and offer their latest game absolutely free. Wardell takes advantage of the technology at hand to keep the affected users from having to make any effort on their part to get their replacement game ("It's already been added to your account...")

Stardock realizes that each game its customers purchase takes a bit of their time and money, and both commodities are in limited supply. This gesture doesn't ask for any more of those two commodities, and goes a long way towards securing something else only available in limited quantities: trust.

Wardell and Stardock are investing in their own future by taking care of their customers now. By doing the unexpected, fans who were burned by "Elemental" will be more likely to take a look at Stardock's upcoming offerings. And even if they felt "Elemental" wasn't that bad, hey... free game! How often does that happen? Either way, a ton of goodwill and positive word-of-mouth is being generated, something no company can purchase.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Ninja (profile), Oct 30th, 2012 @ 12:00pm

    That's one insanely epic win. Some companies would have to give a few dozen games for free to fix their reputation though... Square-enix comes to mind.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Mesonoxian Eve (profile), Oct 30th, 2012 @ 12:05pm

    Take notes, EA.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Rikuo (profile), Oct 30th, 2012 @ 12:06pm

    Just in case anyone's don't get the game free if you create an account now. I just tried and there's nothing for me to download using their Stardock software. I guess they kept track of who had previously bought Elemental: War of Magic and only gave the new game to those customers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 30th, 2012 @ 12:10pm


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    cephyn, Oct 30th, 2012 @ 12:18pm

    Company good, Wardell....enh

    Stardock is a company run right, for the most part. But I have to say, it's run by a class-a jerk.

    Look up his recent lawsuit with a former employee, and the postings he made on forums saying he's a sexist, crude jerk - and has no plans to change.

    I pointed out to him on twitter that his public perception was dropping fast during his forum offensive against the former employee. he promptly blocked me (his right) and suddenly my twitter account was mysteriously suspended. I never was able to find out why, but it's an amazing coincidence.

    stardock. good company. treats customers right. makes good games, generally. run by a total jerk.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), Oct 30th, 2012 @ 12:29pm

    Re: Company good, Wardell....enh

    Humans are walking contradictions, that's unfortunately completely normal. Let's just laud the fellow for running the company correctly and call it a day.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    The eejit (profile), Oct 30th, 2012 @ 12:43pm

    Re: Company good, Wardell....enh

    Yup. Perhaps that6's why they're so good at Customer Service: because the complete asshat at the top has actual experience at being an asshole and passed on the "what not to do" list to the rest.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Austin (profile), Oct 30th, 2012 @ 12:58pm


    Stardock has a habbit of breaking ground in a lot of ways, and this probably stems from their origins. They didn't being as a game studio, but rather making desktop customization products - skin engines, icon replaces, etc. They did this because, simply put, the customization that XP offered "built in" was crap, and they sought to improve it. Personally, I only ever used IconPackager (decided I was happy with a normal XP theme) but it was a well-crafted piece of software that did something nothing else did at the time. More to the point, it wasn't rehashing something that someone else had done, nor was it filling an existing niche. It was creating a brand new niche, and it was executing on it very, very well.

    Skip forward to Sins of a Solar Empire, the first big foray they made into games (and the last one I paid much attention to) and they did it again. We have Starcraft, we have Supreme Commander, etc. RTS games set in space are nothing new, nor is the 3-faction standard nor the scroll-in-and-out bit. What Sins did well is, strangely enough, putting space combat IN SPACE. Starcraft? Either on a planet or on a station. SupCom? Again, planetside. Frankly the main feature for me of Sins was to finally play a space-based RTS that was all actually in fucking space. What a concept! Of course, it also didn't hurt that they made the game so easy to mod. Why anyone releases a game with code in place specifically to PREVENT modding is beyond me. I can understand not wanting to ADD modding capability, but Christ, why would you ever, EVER remove it?!

    So anyhow...honestly, I'll probably give this new game a shot. My experience with Stardock has always been good, and to see them admit a mistake is always a plus.

    Also, to comment #3 up there, it wouldn't work. Stardock has their own steam-like platform called Impulse. My bet is that it's probably added to the Impulse account of people who bought the previous game. Impulse is a rather unique variation-on-a-theme of Steam. As far as I know (I don't use either of them, or Origin, or any other DRM-masked-as-an-updater system) the main difference is that Impulse doesn't stop you from playing your games when you're offline. Imagine that!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Angus, Oct 30th, 2012 @ 1:10pm

    Re: Well...

    Stardock is even older than that. They were making OS/2 games back when win95 was coming out. If you beat the hardest level of the game and sent them a save, they would improve their ai to beat you again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 30th, 2012 @ 1:11pm

    I generally dont like Stardock Games, but i have to say i will be watching their releases and hope something appeals, i want to do business with them (unlike Blizzard, EA, and Infinity Ward, who can release plans for the literal holy grail of games and I will pass, because they always screw up and then blame the customers...)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    minijedimaster (profile), Oct 30th, 2012 @ 1:14pm

    Re: Well...

    Sadly, Impulse is no more. Stardock sold this service to Gamestop, so it is now their digital distribution system. I stopped using that system after that, can't stand Gamestop. So all those games I purchased through there go unused.

    Also, Stardock's first foray was really Galactic Civ 1 and 2. GalCiv 2 was an amazing game. I also enjoy Sins of a Solar Empire.

    I can verify the validity of this email. I received one and logged into my account on Stardock's website. It is indeed there for me to download. I haven't tried it yet so I can't say if its any good or not. I can only assume it is much better than the original, though that is not saying much. I wouldn't say the original was bad due to "bugs", I would say it just plane wasn't any fun. This gesture by Stardock has somewhat restored my faith in them as a developer. I'm still upset about them selling impulse to Gamestop though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Meh, Oct 30th, 2012 @ 1:33pm

    Too bad Brian Wardell is a crazy sexist idiot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Maxwell (profile), Oct 30th, 2012 @ 1:51pm

    More where that ccame from

    Square Enix too was rocked by a failiure very similar to this. Final Fantasy XIV was a bullet in the knee cap for the brand. And the FF brand always carries so much expectations. SE did three things:

    Apologize and waive the monthly fees.
    Setup a solid communication channel with the fans.
    Rebuild the game from the ground up.

    The key part here is the constant communication with the fans. Apologising will only hold up the fans from leaving long enough to hear your next statement. It must be followed by concrete actions that engages the audience and demonstrate a will to change rather than simply giving people a cookie. I'm not saying that Stardock is wrong, just that i feel it may be lacking in effort if its not followed by strong PR to engage the fans.

    The ultimate phoenix down for FFXIV, in my own FFXIV player opinion won't simply be the rebuilt version of the game, but the support of the fans generated by all the PR efforts and tools.

    There is a lot of lessons learned in there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 30th, 2012 @ 1:57pm

    I'm interested...but not $40 interested. I know graphics aren't everything, but I've seen more polished looking games by indie developers on Kickstarter

    Wanna connect with fans, Stardock? Offer a demo or something before I pirate it to see if it's worth throwing my money at.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Rikuo (profile), Oct 30th, 2012 @ 2:09pm


    What are you talking about? The game being talked about here has been given for free to previous customers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 30th, 2012 @ 2:22pm

    Now if only Atari would give me a free game to make up for that crappy Pac-Man cartridge...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 30th, 2012 @ 2:59pm

    Re: Company good, Wardell....enh

    Yeah, I remember reading about that guy. He heard that some employee was allergic to bee stings, so he brought a bee to work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 30th, 2012 @ 3:22pm

    Re: Re:

    Yes - to previous customers. I applaud them for doing this, and I am genuinely interested in this game as I like the genre. However $40 is a lot to spend on a game which is not a trip A game.

    Perhaps I'm used to GOG where I'm willing to risk $10 that looks not as polished as this, or playing a demo to get the feel of a game, or an entitled jerk like most gamers appear to be these days, but I'm saying if Stardock want to take the next step to appeal to gamers and potential buyers - release a demo to people who you haven't burnt before.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    ZubaZ, Oct 30th, 2012 @ 3:33pm

    We do our best and hope it's good enough

    I'm in Stardock customer care and we were unhappy that WoM wasn't what we wanted.
    We like money. Giving this (much better) game is going to cost us sales because those folks that bought WoM would likely buy this game. But more than liking money, we want to hotbed "that Guy".

    FE is a great game. It's a game we are proud of. And Stardock is a placeI can be proud of to work for.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 30th, 2012 @ 8:41pm

    Re: Re: Company good, Wardell....enh

    It's a skit. You can find it on youtube, he brings in some bees without a stinger in a jar.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    Alana (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 1:15am


    You should look up how Square Enix treated Final Fantasy 14.

    They threw the entire MMO for free for a year (Or close to it) while they rebuilt the entire game from the ground up because the quality was sub-par.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Ninja (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 4:33am

    Re: Re:

    Yeah, that was one of the rights they did in a sea of wrongs. That's why I said, they need a few free games to make up for all the bad ones they released lately heh

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    nasch (profile), Oct 31st, 2012 @ 8:51am

    Re: We do our best and hope it's good enough

    But more than liking money, we want to hotbed "that Guy".

    Hotbed? Is that a verb I haven't heard before, or a typo, or what?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2012 @ 7:20pm

    Re: Re: Re: Company good, Wardell....enh

    Funny, I thought "a skit" meant "a routine performed by two or more comedians", not "the sort of prank that only an utterly insane sociopath would think was funny".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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